Memories of Modernism

Christian Science Monitor Plaza and Fountain, photo taken by John Michael Garcia.

Looking back to my years growing up in the Dominican Republic, I can vividly recall the memories of the sights, sounds and smells that shaped me as a child.  As young as I was when I left my country to join my parents in the United States, the power of the places I experienced have molded me into a passionate advocate for the preservation of history and architecture.

My first few years living in this country were extremely difficult. Everything felt strange, from the language and culture to the weather and food.  However, with time, I managed not only to adapt to this new land, but also keep my childhood memories alive. Growing up in Boston allowed me to witness firsthand many changes that were taking place in the city, all leaving a powerful impression on me.

One of my first experiences interacting with architecture in the city occurred on a field trip as a student at the Hurley Elementary School in the South End.  On our way back to school from the Mapparium located inside the Mary Baker Eddy Library; founder of Christian Science, my classmates and I strolled around the iconic modernist space and jumped into the fountain to cool off from the scorching summer sun.

That was my introduction to Modernism. I have never been able to forget how emotionally intense and powerful this experience was.  One, it happened just a few months after leaving the little rural town I was born in and two, I had never seen an enormous pool nor a fountain where kids ran around and played in. The moment was magical, so magical and powerful I often see myself reflected in the lives of the kids who play in this space today.

According to Dolores Hayden in The Power of Place, “[memory] is the key to the power of historic places to help citizens define their public pasts: places trigger memories for insiders who have shared a common past, and at the same time places often can represent shared pasts to outsiders who might be interested in knowing about them in the present” (46). Places have the ability to evoke visual and social memory and the Christian Science Center Complex along with its reflection pool and fountain has not only formulated my understanding and appreciation for Modern architecture today, but was my first introduction to the power of modernism and the role it plays in our lives (of course, this statement I only realized a few years ago while studying art and architectural history in college).

Photo taken by John Michael Garcia

The Plaza is truly one of Boston’s grandest spaces and the emotional attachment I feel is also felt by many friends and colleagues. When hearing of the possible fate of the Plaza, a friend of mine also traveled down memory lane to the days when he was a child playing in the fountain.  I sensed the beginning of an emotional void as he perhaps contemplated on the future of this site, a future which everyday seems more uncertain to me and hundreds of people. Designating the plaza as a Boston Landmark will assure that memories are kept alive for many generations of Bostonians whose lives have been touched by this Complex.

Memories last a lifetime.  Not designating the plaza as a Boston Landmark is an opportunity to shatter the dreams and memories of those who have experience the magic of the reflection pool, the fountain and its buildings.

If you’re reading this and you have also been touched by the Christian Science Complex, I urge you to send a letter to the Boston Landmarks Commission advocating for the designation of the Complex as a Boston Landmark.

To learn more, you can view the study report here.

You can send your letter of support or comments by August 16th, 2010 to this address:

The Boston Landmarks Commission voted to designate the Christian Science Monitor Plaza as a Boston Landmark! Thank you!!!!

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20 Comments

  1. The study of modernism is extremely fascinating.
    -Noor
    :)

    Reply
  2. I like the looks of that fountain. Nice and aquatic, just like I like them.

    The Codger

    Reply
  3. Songbird

     /  July 22, 2010

    I totally agree- what an interesting post. And such an interesting point about the past and the history of places. After all we are our memories.

    Reply
  4. What a lovely memory, and shaped your view powerfully. CSM plaza has only gotten better, even more compelling as a modern public space. Unique in the US. Also, thanks for quoting Hayden’s book, another person who has studied memory and cities. Usually people see architecture memories around traditional design; thank you for providing one about modern. btw, I commented to you on twitter as @urbanverse.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for the comment Cindy! I checked your site out last night, very interesting stuff you’re working on!

      I fell in love with Hayden’s book and looking forward to exploring it more and applying the many concepts to my explorations of architecture and planning in Boston.

      Reply
  5. aditi

     /  July 22, 2010

    Really very interesting post

    Reply
  6. bhavin

     /  July 22, 2010

    Interesting post

    Reply
  7. Yours is an intriguing story. While I’ll admit that I don’t particularly enjoy modernist architecture, or find its aesthetic conducive to memory formation, it does seem that your experience was more a function of incident than causation. I lived in Boston for many years, not far from the Christian Science plaza and fountain. But I never saw people running through and enjoying themselves. In fact, on two separate occasions, an artist I was with was asked to leave the premises unless he stopped filming, once, or photographing location, the second time (I was with him on one such occasion). So I always think of the space as very strange, and associate it with a panopticon of sorts. I can understand that your memories are attached to the space though, so I’m glad that you were able to develop them in this essay, and hope that you’re able to help save the open space (which I do appreciate, since the thought of a building in an already congested part of Boston is unappealing)!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comments. I do agree with you in that the thought of a building in an already congested area does not make much sense and is very unappealing to say the least.

      In regards to memory formation in modernist architecture, I think every individual is shaped by their own life experiences when confronted with a modern work of art or architecture or any architecture for that matter. I do happen to think that modernist buildings are conducive to memory formation and kids tend to be more aware of the fact than most adults are. Whether one is affected either positively or negatively by a building is up to the individual, but either way, you’ll remember that space regardless.

      I’ve never had a negative experience with this particular Plaza nor have I heard of people being affected in a negative way by it, but again, there are many points of views out there.

      I think we as a society need to have more conversations like these before all modern buildings or spaces are demolished or extensively altered. Thank you for your insightful comments! Very much appreciated!

      Reply
  8. I can completely appreciate your awareness for the importance of experience in architecture. I believe it is crucial for architects/designers to create spaces that speak to the human senses and allow for life to unravel in the most beautiful and harmonious way possible.

    Children seem to be the most aware of these simple yet lasting impressions of space. I was born in Rio, Brazil and came to Miami as a young child. Many years later, as I too began my architecture studies, I found some of my most powerful influences came from those few years I lived there. Until this day in all my designs I can trace back the places I have been and where I have come from.

    Reply
    • Thank you for taking the time to comment! Very much appreciated! I also happen to believe it is crucial for architects and designers to design spaces that speak to our senses and i think the architects, landscape architects and designers of this plaza back in the 1950′s and 1970′s had this very idea in mind.

      Reply
  9. Nancy

     /  July 23, 2010

    I appreciate your charitable expression of heartfelt sentiments and endorsement.
    So many enjoy The Mother Church and the Plaza area! When Ushering there for several functions some denominational some not; so many individuals expressed their appreciation of the full complex areas. I found it neat, because they pointed out some things that I had missed and thus was able to add to my favourites.
    The Christian Science Committee on Publication had uploaded to Facebook the report you are attaching. I endorsed it in my comments to them:
    I support! Great ideas! More green space! Great works! Progressive ideas – self-sustaining ideas — Proactive action with enabling! Keep it up! More ? !
    Yours in appreciation too! n

    Reply
  10. I read a lot of blogs, but your stlye, sensitivity, knowledge and even feelings are very beautifully reflected here… Wonderful piece!

    Do stop by docrehana.wordpress.com and share your views sometime…

    T.c Regards
    Rehana

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! As you can see I am very passionate about the built environment and I think it shows not only in this post, but in other ones as well! I will stop by to check your blog out.

      Reply
  11. I love the pictures. It shows that life should be happy and be celebrated everyday.

    Great post. Looking forward for more.

    Got my new blog here. Hope you could check it out.

    Reply
    • Thanks. The photos were taken by a friend of mine who does really great photography. His photography really does have that point of view of celebrating everyday urban life. I have to say though, I was inspired to write this post when I saw the photos he had taken of this modernist space. Thanks for the comments.

      Reply
  12. Nice post Anulfo. Do you have any connections to people in the D.R. who are involved in urbanism and placemaking work today? I may be going there on a project in spring (2012)…

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately I don’t know anyone down there who works in urban planning or design. Good luck with the project.

      Reply

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